I was on my way home from a festival where I’d sold my handicrafts and shiny rocks. I’d just turned my van into my neighborhood when I saw a dog racing down the street ahead of me.
The people where I live take the county leash law very seriously, and I never see dogs running loose around here. As I drove very slowly behind the dog, I looked around for its person. There were no humans in sight.
I stopped the van and got out. Hey dog! I called. The dog whirled around and looked at me.
Here doggie! I called calmly, and it ran right up to me and let me pet her. What a sweetie!
She wore a collar, so I checked for a tag. She had a county registration tag, but nothing wih a name or phone number on it. She was obviously somebody’s dog and I didn’t want her to get hit by a car on the nearby highway or be torn up by the neighborhood pack of coyotes, so I decided to try to help her find her people.
I opened the van’s side door and moved some things around. As soon as there was space, the dog jumped right in.
I called the office of the place where I live. The manager answered the phone, and I asked her if she knew of anyone whose dog was missing. She said the dog had been running around for a while and other folks had called to notify her.
I’ve got the dog in my van, I told her, then asked if there was a nearby animal shelter where I should take it.
She gave me a phone number, which I called. I talked to a woman whose position I still don’t know. Was she an animal control officer? Was she a local pet rescue volunteer? I still have no idea.
I told the woman on the phone my location and described the dog I’d just ushered into my van. She said other people had called about the dog, whose name was Milly. Her person hadn’t answered his phone earlier, but the woman knew where he lived. (I suppose this information was found via the county registration on the dog’s tag.) The women on the phone gave me the dog’s address, and I said I’d drive Milly home.
As I pulled out onto the main highway, I saw a most unusual sight. Two travelers were walking on the side of the road. The guy had long salt and pepper hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and the woman had dread locks in a neat bun on the top of her head. Each carried a big backpack and held a leash hooked to a big dog. Both wore clothes made drab by long wear and road dirt. These were traveling kids, although I could see in their faces that these folks were well out of their 20s.
Seeing them there was strange because my winter home is truly in the middle of nowhere. It’s 10 miles from the nearest small town, 50 miles from the next small town, and ninety miles from the nearest Wal-Mart. These folks were over 100 miles from the next city in the direction they were headed, with practically nothing but tribal land between their current location and the city. Of course, they could have been headed somewhere on the tribal land; surely there are Native American traveling kids on the highways and back roads of the U.S. Maybe these two were almost home.
In any case, I didn’t have time to stop for them. I was trying to get the stray dog home, and the travelers and I were headed in opposite directions. I decided I’d look for them upon my return and continued on my dog rescue mission.
I found the street where Milly supposedly lived and a mailbox with the correct house number. I had a leash in my van, so I hooked it to Holly’s collar, and we went together to find her people. The houses were laid out in an odd configuration, and I had trouble finding the right one. I knocked on a door without a number and an elderly woman with thin hair and unfortunate eyeliner answered. I politely asked her if this dog was hers. She said it was not. I told her the address I was looking for. She was unsure of the location, but told me where she thought it was.
From inside the house, an unseen man hollered, She’s looking for Marv!
Marv doesn’t have a dog! she called back impatiently.
I thanked her for her help, and Milly and I were on our way.
I drove just a little ways down the street and found the number I was looking for. It was Marv’s house, if the painted rock labeled Marv and Betty was to be believed. Maybe Marv had gotten a dog without alerting the neighbors.
I leashed Milly again, and we walked up to the door. I knocked. The door was opened by an elderly woman I presume was Betty. Like the woman I’d just spoken to, she wore jeans and a sweatshirt, but Betty’s hair was a perfectly white frizzy poof surrounding her head like the nimbus of a saint in a Renaissance painting.
I politely asked her if this was her dog. She said it was not. She said she currently didn’t have any dogs. I explained I’d been given her address as the home of the dog, but she firmly maintained that Milly did not live there. I thanked her and took Milly back to the van.
I called the woman who’d given me the (mis)information about where Milly lived and told her the dog’s person didn’t live where she thought he did. She asked me if I could meet her ten miles away at the animal shelter. I agreed.
When I arrived at the county complex housing the shelter, I leashed Milly yet again and walked over to the entrance. The woman I’d been talking to was waiting for us. She was middle age, blonde, and dressed Saturday afternoon casual. She told me she’d called Milly’s person again, and he’d answered this time.
He’d been drinking, and I woke him up, she told me.
Apparently, when she asked for his address, he couldn’t tell her. Get up and wash your face, she’d told him, and figure out where you live!
I felt bad about leaving Milly in the dark concrete kennel, but she did have the company of a fuzzy white dog named Buddy.
I don’t want anything bad to happen to her here, I told the woman, meaning please don’t euthanize this sweet dog just because her person is a dumbass and lets her run around.
Nothing bad’s going to happen to her here, the woman said. If you leave her running around out there, she might run onto the highway…The woman shuddered and didn’t spell out what might happen if Milly were to run onto the highway. She didn’t need to spell it out; I know cars and animals can be a dangerous combination.
I left Milly, trusting the woman to get her home. I suspected the woman would also give Milly’s person a stern lecture on the dangers of letting her run free.
I was almost home when I thought about the traveling couple again. I wonder what happened to them, I thought moments before I saw them sitting on the side of the road just past my turn. I purposefully missed the turn and stopped my van near them.
Where in the world are y’all going? I asked as I approached them on foot.
As I suspected he would, the guy named the city 100+ miles away, then asked hopefully, Where are you going?
I live over there, I pointed. I could tell they were disappointed.
We heard there’s a truck stop about a mile down the road, the woman said hopefully. Do you think you could drive us there?
I don’t think it’s a truck stop, I told them. I think it’s just a gas station. But yes, I can drive you there.
They loaded in their packs and their dogs, all the while tickled that a Grateful Dead rendition of “Scarlet Begonias” was coming through the speaker attached to my phone.
What are y’all doing out here? I asked as soon as the van was rolling.
That’s a long story, the guy said. I’ll let you tell it, he said to the woman.
She kept it short. They were looking to settle down, she said, and they had friends in the nearby small town. They’d come to stay with the friends who had immediately started acting weird, so now they were heading back to the city.
I pulled int the gas station’s parking lot and handed the woman a few bucks. She was very thankful, as was her guy, who lifted his shirt to show me the word “LOVE” amateurishly tattooed high on his stomach. (Yes, that part of the encounter was as awkward as it sounds.)
I briefly toyed with the idea of offering to drive them to the city, but I really didn’t want to make a 200+ mile round trip that overcast afternoon, especially the part where I’d have to come back alone. Besides, they were old enough to have been around the block a time or two. I think they’d been on the road a while and (hopefully) knew how to handle themselves.
They unloaded their packs and their dogs, and they thanked me again before I drove off.
I hope all the strays I picked up that day eventually made it home safely.